Ben Meyer

Special Topics Correspondent

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Ben took the newly-created position of Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR in September of 2019. For a year, he focused on reporting on water and water resource issues in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula as part of The Stream, a weekly series.

Starting in September 2020, Ben’s reporting focus has been on the new landscape of living, working, and playing in the Northwoods, a place mostly devoid of giant employers, but a home to many entrepreneurs, small businesses, and people working from home. The series is called Employed.

In addition to special topics reporting, Ben often contributes to daily news reporting and hosting on WXPR.

Prior to joining the WXPR team, Ben spent more than seven years serving in several roles at WJFW-TV in Rhinelander.

Originally from Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, Ben is a graduate of UW-Madison. He lives in Rhinelander with his wife, Erika.  Outside of work, Ben is currently pursuing a law degree at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in the Twin Cities. He’s is an avid Brewers and Badgers fan, and enjoys doing outdoor projects, running, and competing in triathlons.  Ben is also a WIAA basketball official and calls play-by-play for Rhinelander Hodags sports.

School District of Rhinelander

Pelican Elementary School is the second school in the School District of Rhinelander to close to in-person instruction this year due to COVID-19.

The school made the announcement on Thursday.

Crescent Elementary School announced its closure last week.

Like Crescent, Pelican will move to remote learning for students.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

A new storefront in downtown Rhinelander attracts few walk-in customers.

The store sells parts for commercial, business, and personal aircraft, even though it’s far from any major airport.

But although it doesn’t get much street traffic, the business plan and attitude of the owners might be a sign of a downtown on a gradual rise.

“If I was going to describe my business, I’m like the Napa Auto Parts for airplanes,” said Bob Lueder, the owner of Plane Parts Inc. in downtown Rhinelander.

Incumbent Republican Representative Rob Swearingen of Rhinelander is being challenged by Minocqua Democrat Kirk Bangstad this fall. The two will be on the ballot in the 34th State Assembly District.

WXPR planned to host a forum including the two candidates, but Bangstad declined to participate.

Instead, WXPR spoke to Swearingen on issues including COVID-19, the statewide mask mandate, PFAS contamination in drinking water, potential metallic mining in the Northwoods, school funding, and broadband expansion.

Hear that conversation by clicking the audio player above.

Two candidates are on the ballot in Wisconsin’s 12th State Senate District, which covers most of the Northwoods: Republican Mary Felzkowski and Democrat Ed Vocke. Listen to WXPR’s forum with the two candidates by clicking the audio player above.

The district includes all of Oneida, Lincoln, Langlade, Forest, Florence, and Menominee counties. Most of Vilas County is in the district, and parts of Marathon, Marinette, Oconto, and Shawano counties are in the district.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

A group of 34 environmental and public health organizations is calling for the state to require public drinking water systems to test for PFAS.

PFAS are so-called “forever chemicals” linked to health risks, including cancer.

High levels of PFAS contamination were found in two Rhinelander wells last year, as well as in other water systems statewide. But there’s no mandate to test for them.

Like many non-profit organizations, NATH and Frederick Place have had to cancel event after event because of the pandemic.

But the Rhinelander-based homeless shelter is putting a creative twist on a traditional fundraising event this week.

Every year, Frederick Place invites the community to gather and enjoy some of the best soups in the area during its Soup for Shelter fundraiser.

“Knowing that we can’t gather, we have had to try to come up with something creative to still have this event,” said NATH and Frederick Place Executive Director Tammy Modic.

Three local counties reported new COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday.

Also Tuesday, the state set a new record with 34 additional COVID-19 deaths.

In our area, Forest, Lincoln, and Marathon counties each tallied another death.

Forest County now has 10 virus deaths, with four in Lincoln County and 31 in Marathon County.

The new statewide deaths pushed the total since the start of the pandemic past 1,500.

There were almost 3,300 new positive cases Tuesday.

To date, more than 155,000 people in Wisconsin have been infected with the virus.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Living in Lake Superior’s shadow and walking its windy shore in Ashland didn’t sound like much of a life plan to Sara Hudson.

But 16 years ago, when her husband got a job here, the young couple moved to what seemed like a remote place.

“When we moved here, I was still like, what are we doing here?” Hudson said. “I had a friend that cried for a year straight.”

Around that time, an outsider could be forgiven for having a grim view for the area’s future.

Iron ore shipments from Ashland, a backbone of the community, had stopped in the 1960s.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Katy Martens looks into her computer camera and greets her virtual audience, starting a session of yoga with essential oils.

She’s in her backyard in Sayner, surrounded by a forest of changing color.

Most of her audience is where Martens lived just six months ago, the greater Milwaukee area.

She and her family moved to Vilas County, and her students stayed with her virtually.

“It was just like, I can do this from anywhere. Sayner’s awesome. It’s our family house,” she said. “It’s better for the kids. It was kind of a no-brainer then, at that point.”

Dan Dumas/Kim Swisher Communications

Note: This story has been updated to reflect that Badger Minerals won't pursue further exploration on Heartwood Forestland-owned property in the town of Schoepke. That property had been the initial target of a drilling program, but Badger Minerals owns other lands in the area which could be explored.

Badger Minerals won’t pursue further sulfide mining exploration at a timber company-owned site in eastern Oneida County, the company told WXPR. The site is near the Wolf River.

Pixabay

At least 150,000 Wisconsin homes still have lead water service lines, although the number could be as high as 450,000, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.

A new Wisconsin DNR program is giving out $63 million dollars to help homeowners replace those lines.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

For many small businesses in the Northwoods, offering one product or service just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Especially during a global pandemic, doing two things at once is often a necessity for survival.

That’s on display in Park Falls, where last Wednesday, Linda Bukachek filled a pitcher with heated wax in a back room at Patchouli Garden.

It’s the first step in a candle-making process she’s repeated over and over. Bukachek next adds ingredients, color, and fragrances to the wax. Then, she carefully pours it into a dozen candle molds.

Michigan Department of Corrections

A Michigan state Senator wants to make it easier for the state to sell a closed prison in the Upper Peninsula.

Ojibway Correctional Facility in Marenisco closed two years ago, and 203 people lost their jobs.

“It’s really been a pretty serious blow to the local economy and to the local community, to families, to schools,” said Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Waucedah).

Now, McBroom is sponsoring a bill that would streamline the sale of the property.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

One of the first things a visitor to the Solution Center in Land O’Lakes notices is the clocks.

Clocks of different styles line the walls.

Some of them work. Some of them don’t. It doesn’t really matter.

“It’s kind of just a key reminder why we’re here, is to give people their time back,” said Marsha McVicker, walking through the building.

McVicker is the founder and owner of Errand Solutions, which produces an app and concierge service called Luv Your Life.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

On days the paper mill is operating, a century-old steam whistle sounds at noon over Park Falls.

It’s been silent for most of the past year as the mill went through layoffs, a closure, and bankruptcy.

But the whistle sounded again on Wednesday, and it will sound into the future as the mill begins to come to life again.

On Wednesday, the city celebrated a new mill owner – Park Falls Industrial Management – and the reopening of the mill under a new name – Park Falls Pulp and Paper.

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